Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mapping Travel Writing: A Brief Exploratory History of the Sub-Discipline (Paper 1)

Thompson’s Travel Writing: The New Critical Idiom defines travel writing as writing “underpinned by, and emerg[ing] from, an encounter between self and other precipitated by movement” (10). His efforts for terseness combats against the sub-disciplines’  “complex and confusing relationship with any number of closely related (indeed often overlapping) genres” (21). Similarly, Campbell’s “Travel Writing and its Theory,”  describes how travel writing touches “across a wide political spectrum” such as anthropology, geography, and of course, postcolonial theory, as it relates to the aftermath of imperial powers’ traveling and settling.
A brief overview of the genre in the last few hundred years reveals how texts have shifted from objective to subjective, focusing, within the 18th and 19th centuries, on information that was new and utilitarian to the world- geography, anthropology and biology- making it  heavily scientific and observational. During the mid and late 19th century, travel writing shifted to reveal both the personal (inward) and geographical (outward) journey (Thompson 109). Beginning in the 19th century, it may be argued that the outward travel dims and the reader is relieved that “this traveller has at least made some important self-discoveries, even if he has not made the great discoveries about the wider world” (Thompson 97). American Manifest Destiny travel diaries, a specific interest of mine, develop this combination of Enlightenment and Romantic tropes quite clearly.  20th and 21st century travel writing only continues the double journey of space and psyche in more intentional and often, unfortunately for the reader, contrived ways in an effort to reach the “conclusive, climactic scene, in which the traveller seemingly gains an epiphanic insight into him- or herself” (Thompson 115).
Because travel writing helps make sense of the imputed meanings of historical events and movements,  historians value travel writing as pieces of reception histories. However,  Campbell mentions how early modern readings of travel literature in non-historical emphases were “often laughed out of court” by scholars because of their non-literary feel and “their apparently paranoid encoding of imperialist rhetoric and its key tropes.” The scholarly reaction to travel writing is not surprising, given the fractured relationship among English disciplines (Nuget and Ostergaard 3).  It was not until mostly French theoretical models, especially those from Foucault emerged within the 1960s- 1980s that literary interest in travel writing studies bloomed.
Campbell acknowledges how Foucault’s influence on discourse analysis combined with the New Historicist movement in the 1980s helped the genre gain attention. Additionally, Campbell attributes perhaps the most scholarly credit to postcolonial literary critic Edward Said whose 1978 work Orientalism produced a straightforward thesis regarding the need to study the East as “discourse” as it is a “enormously systematic discipline” that has been controlled and manufactured by imperialist powers. Because of Said’s traditional literary approach to non-fiction travel writing and archival material, critical interest of such works piqued, and this scholarly attention helped foster the focus of travel writing as a true sub-discipline of English Studies.
Campbell also comments on the modern problem of displaced peoples, immigrants, refugees, and exiles, for example, as a catalyst for interest in travel writing studies and its role in understanding varying discourses (political, ethnographic, etc.), but especially in imperialists’ pursuit of “power and wealth”.  Literary Marxists such as Michael Nerlich, New Historicists Stephen Greenblatt (whose work with the Berkeley publication Representations also provided rich work on travel studies in the 1980s and 90s) and Louis Montrose are such writers who take interests in travel writing’s postcolonial discussions.
In this video lecture, "The Rough Guide to Geopolitics," Mary Louise Pratt encourages listeners to consider the political implications of their "movement".

The obvious effect that travel writing studies has on the academy is the varying historical, social and political perspectives divulged in, often, private travel diaries of people ( works from / about females, workers or the non-elite/ non-military traveler) during times of great movement.  The archival of such travel writings allows students to “read against the grain of what they are now regularly taught to see” (Campbell) and rethink sources that shape knowledge (epistemology). For example, The 1970s movements in feminism saw a resurgence of interest in women’s travel writing that had long been “superficially ... strongly associated with men” (Thompson 3). Moreover, Pratt’s Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, a postcolonial study of travel writing, (re)introduced critical vocabulary such as: “contact zones” (7-8), “transculturation” (7), and “autoethnography” (9) in the early 1990s, placing valuable significance on the “other” in travel writing while simultaneously adding to debates on how English scholars “shape-re-member-[an alternative] rhetorical presence" (Glenn 8). In my limited work with 19th century female travel diaries, with much censored, encoded writing, I have already had to ponder the “paradox” Gale posits on this issue: “[feminist historians] have to challenge the traditional masculine assumptions about women and women’s ways of thinking and writing and at the same time seek their colleagues’ acceptance of the legitimacy and credibility of their research and scholarship” (363).

Despite the recent resurgence of interest, the study of travel writing as a sub-discipline is young, as it has only been in MLA bibliographical material for a few decades; therefore, the history of the study is even more unmapped, making works on travel writing studies fresh and necessary.

Works Cited
Campbell, Mary Baine. “Travel Writing and its Theory.” The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing. edited by Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs, Kindle ed., Cambridge UP, 2006.
Crispin, Jessa. “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert: Men, Women and Travel Writing.” Boston Review, 20 Jul. 2015, Accessed 26 Mar. 2016.
Gale, Xin Liu. “Historical Studies and Postmodernism: Rereading Aspasia of Miletus.” College English, vol. 62, no. 3, Jan. 2000, pp. 361-386. JSTOR,
Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetoric Retold : Regendering The Tradition From Antiquity Through The Renaissance. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 21 Sept. 2016.
Nuget, Jim and Lori Ostergaard. “Introduction: Preservation and Transformation.” Transforming English Studies: New Voices in an Emerging Genre, by Nuget and Ostergaard. Parlor Press, 2009. pp. 3-20.
Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. 2nd ed., Routledge, 1992.
----. "The Rough Guide to Geopolitics with Mary Louise Pratt." YouTube, uploaded by Journeys: Chicago Humanities Festival, 10 Dec. 2014,
Thompson, Carl. Travel Writing: The New Critical Idiom. Routledge, 2011.

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